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Syllable Structure and Sievers' Law in Gothic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 November 2006

Marc Pierce
University of Michigan


While there is general agreement about many aspects of Gothic syllable structure, a number of important issues remain controversial. This paper offers an Optimality Theory analysis, with a focus on the syllabification of intervocalic consonants and consonant clusters. It is argued that Gothic syllabification generally results from the interaction of constraints requiring that syllables have onsets, that syllables may not have complex codas, or codas in general, and regulating the relationship between the input and the output. A family of constraints banning various types of complex onsets is also proposed. With this analysis of Gothic syllabification in hand, a new analysis of Sievers' Law, one of the classic problems of Gothic phonology, is developed. From this perspective, Sievers' Law is contingent on syllable structure and falls out from the interaction of the proposed constraints on syllable structure. It is also argued that the correct underlying representation of the segment affected by Sievers' Law is an archiphoneme, as this enables a better account of the Sievers' Law alternations, their morphological sensitivity, and the exceptions to Sievers' Law. Although alternative analyses are possible, the analysis presented here sidesteps some of the problems they face and is more philologically rigorous.This paper is a substantially revised version of a portion of my doctoral dissertation (Pierce 2002). For their assistance in the preparation of this revised version, I thank James Cathey, San Duanmu, Benjamin Fortson, Robert Kyes, Tomas Riad, Martti Sloan, and Bruce Spencer. I am especially grateful to the two anonymous JGL referees, who provided a number of helpful comments that caused me to rethink much of the analysis, and to Robert Murray for his assistance in his role as editor.

© 2006 Society for Germanic Linguistics

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